By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—For years, Senators Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) and Jim McClendon (R-Springville) have worked tirelessly to bring twenty-first century technology to Alabama’s school children. With their goal in sight, Gov. Robert Bentley added an executive amendment to the bill passed by the House and Senate, potentially killing the bill altogether.
Dial said that he and McClendon are working hard to make sure the children of the State are going to have the advantages of first-rate technology, are moving forward with a plan and will not stop fighting for the bill.
“We have met with the Governor and are working on this. We have met with Senator Orr and other people,” said Dial. “We are going to fix the situation.”
Bentley’s amendment would remove oversight from an independent committee established under the legislation, and give it to the Alabama Educational Technology Association (AETA). This would give the Association control over funding allocations, something that Dial and McClendon find unacceptable.
“We are very disappointed in the changes that the Governor has put in the bill and the House agreed with,” said McClendon. “I am afraid that the bill, as written, is not in the best interests of our students in the State.”
The WIRED Act, as it is known, would provide school systems with the funds to purchase wireless devices, pay off existing debt dedicated toward wireless capabilities, and purchase other hardware or software needed to enhance the digital learning environment. The legislation would provide wireless broadband access in all of the State’s K-12 public schools.
The problem arose when the Governor was convinced to sign an executive amendment removing oversight from a committee, and giving it to an association comprised of technology officers throughout the entire school system of Alabama.
As one amazed observer said, “This would be like letting the AEA determine who we buy books from or who our school lunch program vendor is.”
“We [Dial and McClendon] are up here doing two things. One, making sure we are getting the best deal possible for our school system and our kids. The second thing is not getting a process where we let associations set rules and regulations and determine how we spend State money,” said Dial.
Dial also said on Wednesday, that he and McClendon have identified another $20 million to be added to the WIRED Act funding. “In the interim time, we found out the bill that they were pushing would leave about $20 million worth of federal money on the table,” he said. “This allows each school system to apply for another $150 per student.”
Dial said he and McClendon are working to re-write the bill so “we don’t leave any money lying on the table. We want to get the most money that we can for our school systems.”
The two senators were told the bill must be expedited because requests for federal matching funds must be filed by early March in order to be in place for the next school year, whereas in fact, the deadline is actually May. McClendon said “There is plenty of time for us to get this legislation right during the current legislative session.”
Bentley’s communications director Jennifer Ardis said, “The Governor still believes the executive amendment was the right thing to do.”
Dial and McClendon say they want what is best for the children, not what serves the interest of any particular association.